Inside Pulse 12

Review: Disgaea 2 (PS2)

Disgaea 2
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Genre: Strategy RPG
Release Date 8/29/2006

The original Disgaea received a massive amount of praise from us here at Inside Pulse when it came out. It won our 2003 GOTY award (along with many others) and was unanimously considered hands down the best game of the year. That’s a hard legacy to live up to. Chuck Platt gave it a 8.5 in his review, but for me it would have received a 7, which is still impressive considering how cheap and stingy I am considered with scores.

Next came Phantom Brave which may not have had the characters or story Disgaea did, but it did feature highly innovative gameplay that made up for the lack of plot. This too received a 7 from me back in September of 2004.

After that came Makai Kingdom which introduced us to Zetta and Pram, who were as loveable (and evil) as Laharl and Etna. As well, it gave us some of the most innovative, addicting and revolutionary gameplay the genre had ever seen. If anything, the biggest flaw of Makai Kingdom was that there was simply so much to see, do, make and kill that it was overwhelming. From a technical and/or innovative standpoint however, Makai Kingdom is arguably the best SRPG ever made. MK received a 7.5 from me in August 2005.

Which is where Disgaea 2 comes in. Not only is it a follow up to the most popular Nippon Ichi game to hit stateside, but it’s also a throwback to the original gameplay of Disgaea as well. Good bye Phantom Brave movement system. Good bye all the crazy shit introduced in Makai Kingdom The question is whether or not Disgaea 2 is a quickly thrown together game (developed in only ten months) in an attempt to cash in on crazy Disgaea fanboys, or if it truly does stand on its own as a quality game that lives up to the Nippon Ichi pedigree starting as far back as Rhapsody.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Compared to all the other Nippon Ichi games I’ve played since 1999, Disgaea 2‘s plot is very much a paint by numbers story and so cliche it’s disappointing. Sure it’s got the great trademark dark humour and wit that one would find in any of their games, but that’s the only thing saving the plot from being “Generic RPG #789189276589054368.”

Your protagonist is Adell, the only human left in a world cursed by demonic overlord Zenon. Every other fleshbag has been turned into a demon. Adell is the typical honourable but vengeance seeking bad ass one finds in an RPG. In fact I’m surprised in retrospect his dialogue didn’t consist of “…” Adell’s family tries a summoning spell to bring Zenon to their village so they can destroy him. However, something goes awry and they instead summon his daughter Rozalin. Rozalin is a demon to be sure, but inside lurks a heart of gold that shown disdain for fighting and war. And of course there’s sexual tension between the two characters.

The Adell/Rozalin characters reminded me of a lesser version of Ryudo and Millenia from Grandia 2. There’s a similar relationship going on, although the Grandia characters were more fleshed out personality wise, and had a greater story to tell. Adell & Rozalin also pale in comparison to the flat out insanity Laharl and Etna gave us (although both do appear in the game and can eventually be playable).

The rest of the game is pretty much a failed attempt to recapture the zeitgeist that was the original Disgaea. Instead of Mid-Boss, you have Axel the C-level celebrity for example. The other cast members are as mediocre. Adell’s family is supposed to be amusing but rarely is, and you can tell NIS is stretching for comedic bits when they make the Demon Frog have a French accent. Oh ho ho ho.

As much as I hate to say this, story wise, Disgaea 2 is Nippon Ichi’s worst game yet. It’s bland, repetitive, and is such a stark contrast from the other highly original plots NI is known for. If it wasn’t for the excellent writing and dark comedy placed into the game’s mechanics with things like the Dark Assembly, I would probably be a lot more scathing here than I would otherwise.

If the plot is any indication of whether or not D2 is a quick “make a buck” job from Nippon Ichi, things aren’t looking good.

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

Okay, the graphics for D2 are mediocre, it’s true, but this is very common for S-RPG’s. The focus of this subcategory of RPG’s is plot and gameplay and the graphics are usually secondary. This holds true for Nippon Ichi’s latest offering. The opening Anime cinematic is wonderful. It’s also the best the game ever looks. At times the characters, levels, and even attacks are quite pixilated and jagged. The outside maps/levels are bland and not as detailed as previous NI games. Inside levels like castles are well done however.

Character designs are blasé as well. I am really not a fan of any of Adell’s family design-wise, including Adell himself. They just turn me off. Even Zenon is pretty much the opposite of awe-insipiring. This is a real shame as Makai Kingdom featured so many great Overlord designs. Pretty much the only new character design I liked was Rozalin, and to be fair, I think she’s my favorite female Nippon Ichi character design-wise.

Overall, Disgaea 2 achieves mediocrity again. Where the plot was a heavy handed disappointment, the graphics score was pretty much a given considering the genre in question.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

Here we go! I can start being nice. Like all Nippon Ichi games, Disgaea 2 has an EXCELLENT soundtrack with very catchy music. I even picked up the soundtrack to the game, which is very rare for me. I’ll find myself humming some of the tunes even days after I’ve put the game down. I had a business trip for 9-10 days a bit ago and had no access to my PS2. I still had D2 songs in my head! Rock on Tenpei Sato!

The voice acting is also top notch. Again though, characters from other games are a shadow of their previous selves due to different voice actors. Although this might be a slight spoiler, I was very disappointed with the actor who replaced Crispin Freeman as a certain BADASS FREAKING OVERLORD. The same holds for other familiar characters that have new voices for their words. Every one is a noticeable step down in quality. That doesn’t mean it’s bad (with the sole exceptions of Adell’s mom and Tink who actually read asides or say “Ho Ho Ho” instead of you know, LAUGHING.); just that Disgaea 2 is simply a shadow of earlier, better Nippon Ichi games in almost every way. If you haven’t played the other games or aren’t as familiar with them, you’ll find the voice acting GREAT. You really will.

Sound Rating: 8/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Let’s get one thing straight. I am not going to compare this game to Phantom Brave or Makai Kingdom in terms of gameplay because it simply isn’t fair. The gameplay of both is so wildly different (yet they’re still SRPG’s. Go Figure.) that it would be a disservice to D2.

D2 is a change from where Nippon Ichi had been going over the last few years with their S-RPG’s. We’re back to a grid formula in which your characters can move, make an action, move then make an action, or make an action then move. Unlike older S-RPG’s, order of moves is not determined by agility or speed or some other similar concept. Rather it is turn based. All your characters go, then all your opponents go. This is common for NI games though, and so it should be no surprise to those used to their games. Other than that it’s typic SRPG fare. You kill things, you get items, you get XP, you get money, you buy things, and repeat for 100 or so hours.

This isn’t all there is to D2 however. You’ve got returning concepts like interacting with the item world and the Dark Assembly, the latter which acts as an Infernal Senate passing bills and generally consisting of the same corrupt drunken oafs one finds in Earth’s career politicians. They’ve also stolen a bit from Phantom Brave where each chapter features hidden items in your town to collect.

There’s no bugs in the game that I’ve found, and no slowdown either, even during special attacks. It’s just simply well made tactical gameplay. Although the plot is nowhere near the levels of excellence I have come to expect from Nippon Ichi, the gameplay is still what you WOULD expect with their track record: PERFECTION.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 10/10

5. Replayability

Heh. It’s always hard to take this category serious with a Nippon Ichi game. There’s 10 or so potential endings, and the ability to get your characters up to level 9999. You can reincarnate them and give them new classes and powers. You can spend literally dozens of hours is a SINGLE item world. You can murder the Dark Assembly. You can find hidden worlds and characters and so much more.

You could buy a single Nippon Ichi game and never need to buy another game for another six months. That’s how in-depth these are. Play, enjoy, love. D2 can’t help but earn another perfect score here.

Replayability Rating: 10/10

6. Balance
Where the original Disgaea and its siblings actual provide you with a challenge, I couldn’t help but find D2 to be overwhelmingly easy. This could be due to the throwback gameplay wise to pre PB/MK style, but I never had a single challenge in any of the battles I participated in. I came, I saw, I slaughtered. Even when enemies were several levels higher than me. The AI just isn’t up to snuff here and it’s far too easy to get powerful items early on from even low levels in an item world that will let you massacre your opponents in the main game. Even the final battle in the game was a breeze in which not a single character died. This is probably the least challenging final battle in an SRPG since Shining Force: the Legacy of Great Intention and the ease in which Dark Dragon can be dispatched.

That’s not you say you can’t make a challenge for yourself if you want to, say like attacking the Dark Assembly when you’re level 20 or less. This however is crappy balance in the exact opposite extreme and will ensure you get slaughtered.

Even neat little changes to the game from the original Disgaea do nothing more than make the game extremely easy. The item world is now loaded with bonuses and even hospitals to make your stay that much easier.

Disgaea 2 just isn’t a hard game. It fact, it’s almost as easy to beat as Rhapsody. Okay, it’s like if Rhapsody had an extra 0 added on to the time it takes to complete the game, but it is that easy. A good example of this is to play the Baal battles in each Nippon Ichi game that it is available and notice how much freaking easier it is to do it in D2 than in earlier games.

Disappointing as I was in the mood for a challenge and instead got a cakewalk.

Balance rating: 4/10

7. Originality

This is definitely D2’s worst scoring area. There’s nothing really original about the game save for the Subpoenas and the Item World changes. Everything else is cliché or a hand me down from earlier Nippon Ichi games. Hell, D2 needs the D1 character cameos to even survive. Without them it would just crash and burn. This is definitely a game living off the first one’s legacy and if it was a stand alone without the Disgaea name? Well…it wouldn’t. Let’s just leave it at that.

Usually Nippon Ichi games show a great deal of creativity and innovation. There’s always something new and fun about them. Disgaea 2? It just doesn’t, and this fact is pretty disheartening. It’s more of the same old, same old, and although the same old is still good for what it is, it’s just not original.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

As much as I’ve given this game a lot of shit of the last few pages. I won’t deny that it is FUN TO PLAY. And really, isn’t that what’s most important about a video game? I had a lot of fun with it and whittled away 70 hours playing it before I wrote this damn review. I really love tactical RPG’s though. I think I’m the only personal alive who has beaten Brigandine with all playable characters.

With so many characters to make, items to journey into, and an enjoyable, if not amazing, main story to play through, you’ll be spending a lot of time in front of your TV thanks to this game, especially if this is your first Nippon Ichi game. Otherwise you might be a little disappointed.

The downside is that the game is so long and there’s so much to do, that much like Makai Kingdom or Phantom Brave, you might just get bored and move on to something less time consuming and more rewarding. It takes a certain type of obsessive nut to get all one can out of Disgaea 2. Other gamers just might not have the patience for it all.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10

9. Appeal Factor

S-RPG’s fans will gladly pick up this game as there has been a drought of these recently. Disgaea fanboys will buy several copies of this game hoping to sell the others on Ebay for $100 a pop ala what happened with the original and will no doubt send me poorly written and profanity laden emails about what an awful review this is because I don’t rate games on a scale from “Excellent” to “Jiz my pants with delight.” Nippon Ichi fans will all pick this up because they make good games, but will, as many have already shared with me, agree with my feelings that the game is decent, but a noticeable step down in quality from their other titles.

D2 will be fun for a majority of gamers. The first question is how long will they actually play it? The second is how many gamers will pick the title up hoping for replay value first and foremost?

Appeal Factor: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

There are no extras to the game save for hidden neat stuff in the actual game. There’s also the Disgaea anime trailer, but it was so bad the less said about it, the better.

In all, D2 is a decently made game. It’s not good and it’s certainly not great, but it will certainly fill your need for an SRPG. I’m rather disappointed by the game because it pales so easily compared to Nippon Ichi’s previous stateside releases. It’s definitely the worst of the 6 (Rhapsody, La Pucelle, Disgaea, Phantom Brave, Makai Kingdom, D2) that Americans can play. Worst doesn’t designate Nightmare of Druaga bad however. That’s like saying American foie gras is the worst of all the different nations that make it. It’s still good. There’s just a noticeable decrease in quality when put up against other nation’s products. Disagea 2 is American foie gras. It’s worth buying and is a lot of fun in certain key ways, but would I recommend it over any other Nippon Ichi title, or even a lot of other SRPG’s like Tactics Ogre or Shining Force 2? Oh god no.

Miscellaneous Rating: 6/10

The Scores
Story: 5/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 8/10
Control & Gameplay: 10/10
Replayability: 10/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 6/10
Appeal Factor: 6/10
Miscellaneous: 6/10
Total Score 63/100
Final Score: 6.5 (Might be Worth Purchasing)

Short Attention Span Summary
Look, if you like SPRGS or Disagea at all, you’re going to buy this game. And you know what? You’ll have fun with it. You’ll like the game. I did. That doesn’t mean it’s not a weaker version of the original and a step down from what Nippon Ichi has put out over the last 5-6 years in the states. I can mildly recommend it, but there’s no way it’s GOTY material. It’s just the crux of it all. Decent game, but it lacks the usual level of NI brilliance. Alas.